Wode Partbooks (St Andrews Psalter)

Alistair Warwick

Please note that this article is in progress

The Vicar, the Musician and a Shared Fear for the Death of Music in Scotland

Thomas Wode (fl 1560-92) was concerned that

I cannot understand bot musike sall pereische in this land alutterlye, 1
and in 1562 consequently began to compile the St Andrews Psalter (otherwise known as the Wode part-books), beginning with over 100 psalm-settings by David Peebles, a canon of the Augustinian Priory of St Andrews, and described by Wode as
ane of the principall musitians in all this land in his tyme. 2

Wode (or Wood) had been a canon of Lindores Abbey (a Tironensian abbey on the outskirts of Newburgh in Fife) before the Reformation when he joined the reformers, following which he settled in St Andrews in 1562. He became vicar there in 1575, where until his death he is frequently mentioned in kirk registers.

Little else is known of David Peebles (fl 1530-76, died before 1592) except that following the Reformation he – like many religious – married, and stayed on at St Andrews Priory. A charter of land rent was granted in 1571 to David Peebles and his wife Katherine Kinnear – together with their two sons, Andrew and Thomas 3 – by the Commendator of the Priory, Robert Stewart, 7th Earl of Lennox (later Earl of March). It is believed that Peebles remained a Catholic throughout his life.

From the illuminating and entertaining comments in Wode's part-books we can see that he was a patient but diligent man:

…my lord James (wha efter was Erle of Murray and Regent) being at the reformation, pryour of Sanctandrous, causis ane of his channons, to name, david pables, being ane of the chief musitians into this land to set three pairtis to the tenor, and my lord commandit the said david to leave the curiosity of the musike; and sa to make plaine and dulce, and sa he hes done; bot the same david he wes not earnest; bot I being cum to this toune to remaine, I wes ever requesting and solisting till they war all set… 4

As we can see, Peebles was somewhat reluctant to set the new psalm-tunes, and Wode had to cajole him persistently to finish the task. If Wode’s description as one of the chief musicians in Scotland is true, and if the quality of his motet Si quis diligit me is anything to go by, then this is hardly surprising, especially since he was required "to leave the curiosity of the musike", in other words to keep the settings simple.

The motet Si quis diligit me, set in around 1530, is a cantus-firmus composition employing structural imitation – based on the chant Magnificat antiphon for the Monday after Pentecost 5 – showing true melodic gift.

The anonymous Mass Felix Namque à6 6 also shows stylistically-similar characteristics, whilst the motet Quam multi, Domine of 1576 shows a knowledge of contemporary continental dramatic and madrigalian techniques. 7

We have already seen that Wode feared that music would utterly perish in Scotland, and consequently set about preserving some of it. He says of the work:

I have said in ane of their bukis that musik will pereishe, and this buke will shaw you some resons quhy, we se be experiance, that craft nor syence is not learnit bot to the end he may leive be it quhen he hes the craft or science. 8
To ane great man that has bot ane resonable gripe of musike; this fyve bukis wes worthy thair wayght of gould. 9

David Peebles

A significant portion of the contents of the Wode Partbooks is the work of the Scottish composer David Peebles (or Pables), who flourished from 1530-76 (died before 1592). Little is known of this canon of the Augustinian Priory of St Andrews, except that following the Reformation in 1559/60, like many religious, he married, and stayed on at St Andrews Priory. In 1571 a charter of land rent was granted to him and his wife Katherine Kinnear and their two sons, Andrew and Thomas, by the Commendator of the Priory, Robert Stewart, 7th Earl of Lennox (later Earl of March). It is believed that Peebles remained a Catholic all his life.

All of his extant works are to be found in the Wode partbooks, two sets of which were made by the scribe, Thomas Wode (or Wood), Vicar of St Andrews. It is possible that the two nearly-complete Mass settings (Cantate Domino, often ascribed to Robert Carver, and the anonymous Felix namque) in the Dunkeld Music Book are also the work of this composer, whom Wode described as:

ane of the chief musitians into this land.

Original set of partbooks

Of the original set of five books, three (Cantus, Tenor and Bass) are in Edinburgh University Library, another (Alto) is in the British Library (GB-Lbl Add. 33933), and the fifth (Quintus) is in Trinity College, Dublin (Eire-DubT 416).

Duplicate set

Although it is currently unknown if a duplicate of all five books were made by Wode, we do know of the location of three of the duplicate set. Two volumes can be found in Edinburgh University, whilst the Alto book has travelled to Georgetown University, Washington. A page from this book in Georgetown's Lauinger Library with one of Wode's wonderful drawings. (Although Georgetown University claims it to be

the quintus part of the second set of the 'Scots Psalter' (1586) by Thomas Wood of St. Andrews, probably from the library of John Gilmary Shea
it is, in fact, the duplicate Alto partbook.)

Further reading

See also Alistair Warwick's article "Musick Fyne".

A useful treatment of this subject can be found in Our awin Scottis use: Music in the Scottish Church up to 1603 by Isobel Woods Preece, ed. Sally Harper (Glasgow and Aberdeen, 2000) reviewed in Church Music Quarterly (April 2001).

You can get free downloads of the music in the Wode partbooks from the Church Service Society


1 Wode part-books: Tennowr partbook p 166-67 (see page 5 for a list of sources)

2 Tribbill partbook p 176-77

3 cf. Hutchison, Hilda The St Andrews Psalter, Edition and Commentary unpubl. DMus diss. (Edinburgh University, 1957) vol 1, p 75f and also Fleming, D H, St Andrews Kirk Register, ii, Scottish History Society, vii (Edinburgh, 1890)

4 Wode, Tennowr part-book, p166-7

5 This can be found in Liber Usualis (Tournai, 1963) p 889 as the Magnificat antiphon at Vespers on the Monday after Pentecost. According to Dom Anselm Hughes this is the Antiphon for the Vigil of Pentecost (v the Worcester Antiphoner F. 160, Paleographie Musicale, xii) cf. MB xv, p 205.

6 cf. MB xv p 58

7 cf. MB xv p 115

8 Tribbill part-book p176-7

9 Tennowr part-book p 166-7


Contact Alistair Warwick at:
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